Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

February 25, 2010

A commentary on my commentary

Filed under: revolutionary organizing,sectarianism — louisproyect @ 5:57 pm


Raccoon Bolsheviks

My analysis of Lindsey German’s resignation from the SWP has prompted a longish piece in the Weekly Worker, the newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain (a far left group with no connection to Moscow-type politics) whose website is festooned by a hammer-and-sickle.

They say, among other things:

Louis Proyect in his post on the topic suggests that bureaucratic-centralist groups can get up to a few thousand members but then get stuck, unable to progress further to real mass influence. One of the commentators remarked that, if so, the advice to the far left should be to build groups like the SWP, but then break with their organisational forms when you get to a few thousand members …

Comrade Proyect’s argument is another half-truth. A few thousand is certainly the usual maximum size of such groups both globally at present and on average across the history of the workers’ movement. But the Italian far-left groups in the 1970s got considerably bigger, and of these only Lotta Continua had a ‘loose’ structure. The Iranian Fedayeen at its height got up to tens of thousands – while retaining the structural and political forms of a far-left sect. And, of course, the fully-Stalinised ‘official’ communist parties were thoroughly bureaucratic-centralist, if – outside of the USSR itself  – they were less inclined to pre-emptive suppression of dissent, leadership bullying, etc, than the SWP. But they were mostly (including the old CPGB) a lot bigger than any of the far-left groups. Hence (in part) Andy Newman’s conversion to ‘official communism’.

I can’t blame them for holding my ideas at arm’s length. After all, it is very hard to reconcile them with hammers-and-sickles, calling yourself the Communist Party and all the rest of it. In Marxist terms, this has always reminded me of Ralph Kramden’s devotion to the Raccoon Lodge.

23 Comments »

  1. I don’t think many people use sickles nowadays. I use a hammer myself to hang up pictures on my wall but I have to be careful not to hit my finger like Homer Simpson.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 25, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

  2. True. But many people work with hammers and a combine would look silly.

    Comment by sophia — February 25, 2010 @ 7:54 pm

  3. I often say that nostalgia is a disease, a bourgeois disease. But symbols and even I dare say personality cults are still relevant (to say the least), without of course being the main thing. And as long as there are still peasants in the world, the sickle is appropriate and inspiring, though perhaps the machete would be better nowadays.

    Comment by Alex — February 25, 2010 @ 9:34 pm

  4. Latin American orgs like the ELN in Colombia do “use” hammer & machete, some in Africa like FRELIMO hammer & hoe … at least among gardeners in western and southern Europe, sickles are still quite common

    Comment by entdinglichung — February 25, 2010 @ 9:57 pm

  5. Yes, I’m sure with your first hand experience of the political situation in Britain, that your assessment is flawless. Sheesh. So they call themselves the CPGB (by which they consider themselves the continuation of the old Communist Party of Great Britain, not unreasonably). What of it, and the use of the hammer and sickle? Have you assimilated so much the US ruling class propaganda? Well guess what, we haven’t.

    Comment by Briton — February 26, 2010 @ 2:32 am

  6. Have you assimilated so much the US ruling class propaganda?

    No. I just think that the hammer and sickle demonstrates an in-group subculture that demonstrates a lack of political creativity. It is the perfect symbol for the university coffee shop where the scent of Gauloise cigarettes hangs heavy.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 26, 2010 @ 2:35 am

  7. I use the term Briton to distinguish myself from the Norman invaders who still constitute our ruling class. I am not actually a member of the CPGB, but I would attest to their complete lack of dogma, and their consequent political creativity, however much I disagree with their often Ultra-left nonsense.

    The hammer and sickle is indeed a signal of internationalism, it is interesting to note that no British far left group has failed to incorporate a non-British symbol, which is to their credit. The Socialist Party (CWI) use the red dawn for instance.

    Comment by Briton — February 26, 2010 @ 3:00 am

  8. “the hammer and sickle is laden with cold war associations”

    Unfortunately, yes. And so is everything else about Socialism/Communism/Marxism. We can not avoid that. We have to argue against it, explain what we mean by Socialism & that Stalinism is the failure & betrayal of Socialism (which isn’t inevitable because of ‘human nature’ or any of that nonsense).

    Weekly Worker seems more inclined to attack the SWP than to do anything else. Just don’t let them near the ice-picks & we’ll survive.

    Comment by JN — February 26, 2010 @ 3:45 am

  9. 7.”I use the term Briton to distinguish myself from the Norman invaders who still constitute our ruling class”

    If you want to distinguish yourself from the ruling class, why not call yourself something like “worker” rather than bringing daft (not to mention highly innaccurate) racial shit into it?

    Comment by JN — February 26, 2010 @ 3:54 am

  10. It’s neither daft, nor inaccurate or racial. Our immigrant brothers and sisters stand with us against those who have appropriated our wealth, land and resources. We are still mainly exploited by the descendents of those who travelled over with William the Bastard in the 11th century.

    Comment by Briton — February 26, 2010 @ 4:13 am

  11. I read a denouncement of the CPGB by the Pictish Liberation Front. Their symbol is a bundle of woad.

    In all seriousness, Louis do you completely reject the word “Communist”?

    Comment by ish — February 26, 2010 @ 11:27 am

  12. It’s highly inaccurate racial shit because the only places that were “British” by the Norman Conquest were Wales, Cornwall and Brittany. “Briton” until the eighteenth century meant a group of Celts distinct from the Gaels and Picts and from the Germanic people (“Angles, Saxons and Jutes”) who settled on the island from the 5th century. It was never a common identity for the whole island. I won’t bother with the claim that our main oppressors are Norman-descended feudal lords.

    Comment by Another "Briton" — February 26, 2010 @ 2:58 pm

  13. I think that small propaganda groups are well advised not to use these words in naming themselves: Communist, Socialist, Workers, Proletarian, Revolutionary, or Labor. Nor using the hammer-and-sickle or a clenched fist as a logo. In 1980 when I began working with Peter Camejo on starting a new leftist network, he settled upon the name North Star Network in homage to Frederick Douglass’s newspaper. That’s the sort of approach that makes sense to me.

    Comment by louisproyect — February 26, 2010 @ 4:57 pm

  14. Firstly, there are open debates in the CPGB, it has a very healthy level of internal debate and welcomes opinions from outside.

    Secondly, what political organisation, successful or otherwise, isn’t to some extent centralist?

    Thirdly, How do the Iranian Marxists you support compare to the British ‘sects’ and what can we learn from them in order to receive your support?

    Fourthly, what symbol or name should they adopt? The Communist red sox?

    Comment by James — February 26, 2010 @ 5:18 pm

  15. In most of the world, “socialist”, at least, is unproblematic. The same goes for ‘labour’. We don’t all live in America, thank God.

    Comment by sophia — February 27, 2010 @ 2:21 am

  16. So it would have been a good idea for Fidel Castro to call the movement to overthrow Batista the Socialist Labor Movement instead of the July 26th Movement? And all the rest that goes with that title, like establishing when the USSR went bad?

    Comment by louisproyect — February 27, 2010 @ 1:20 pm

  17. You have to admit the Socialist Party of England and Wales have a great acronym. It gives new meaning to the old chestnut “The workers’ movement is continually throwing up new methods of struggle!”

    Comment by John B. — February 28, 2010 @ 12:17 am

  18. “Fourthly, what symbol or name should they adopt? The Communist red sox?”

    Maybe in greater Boston, where I live, but I don’t think that would do in New York.

    Comment by Jim Farmelant — February 28, 2010 @ 1:30 am

  19. Seriously, I think just about every combination of Socialist, Workers, Communist, Labor, International, Internationalist, Revolutionary, Group, Party, League, Collective, Committee has been used already, so anyone looking to set up another outfit is just going to have to come up with something else.

    Comment by John B. — February 28, 2010 @ 1:40 am

  20. How about “I can’t believe it’s not socialism” party? It worked for butter!

    Comment by Steve — February 28, 2010 @ 8:50 am

  21. In Los Angeles many years ago there was a group called “Forty Socialists in Search of a Party.”

    Comment by John B. — February 28, 2010 @ 2:34 pm

  22. I have no comment to make because I am not a Marxist just an admirer of Marx’s writings like of other great thinkers. Besides, I am too busy to get involved into this kind of polemics, being a pragmatist. There are so many things happening right now, much more of my interest to get involved in!

    Comment by Joke! — March 1, 2010 @ 9:11 pm

  23. Didn’t Albania have a rifle and pickaxe for a logo. Sweet.

    John B – you missed out proletarian, coalition and federation.

    How about something to put the fear of god into the ruling classes – Iron Fist.

    Comment by Doug — March 3, 2010 @ 5:14 pm


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